About Democracy for NYC

Democracy for NYC (DFNYC) is committed to the ideals espoused by Democracy for America, the organization founded by Howard Dean, and the national network of local coalition groups dedicated to the same.

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Ben Kallos Answers to DFNYC 2013 Candidate Questionnaire

Ben Kallos is running for City Council in District 5, serving the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island. KallosforCouncil.com

1. Money in NYC Politics. Large donors, specifically real estate developers and landlords, have a huge amount of influence in NYC politics due to their campaign contributions. While NYC’s matching funds programs is seen as one of the most innovative public funding campaigns in the country, many DFNYC members feel that big money donors still have too much influence and candidates still spend too much time fundraising. Would you support a change to full public financing of campaigns, similar to the Clean Money Clean Elections programs in Arizona, Connecticut and Maine?

In our campaign we have already called for full public financing of elections, including using the Clean Money Clean Elections model. Support from more than 700 individual contributions meant we actually turned away money from special interests, relying instead on small contributions of $175 or less for 90% of our contributions, with the most common amount just $10. Unfortunately, our opponents have gone with big donors from special interests despite participating in the public matching system. This demonstrates that public matching can support a grassroots campaign like ours but still cannot prevent special interests from buying in. As Executive Director of the New Roosevelt Initiative, I have spent the past three years helping to fight for Money Out Voters In nationally, and FAIR Elections for New York. We need DFNYC’s support so that we can continue the fight from the inside.

2. Tenant Protection & Cost of Housing. Do you support rent stabilization and rent control laws? What will you do to crack down on landlords that break the law? Would you call on the state legislature to repeal vacancy decontrol and more generally, the Urstadt Law, so that New York City – and not Albany – can enact its own housing laws?

As former Chief of Staff for the Mitchell-Lama Subcommittee Chair, Assemblyman Jonathan L. Bing, I know the current issues facing affordable housing. I had the opportunity to work on the next generation of progressive legislation that would scale certain rent regulations to the consumer price index, so that new laws are always current and housing remains affordable for generations to come. I also drafted an Anti-Tenants Black List that would make it illegal to use a Housing Court lawsuit as a consideration to deny housing and allow for an administrative complaint through the New York State Division of Human Rights for enforcement without cost to tenants. As a City Council Member I would fight the Urstadt law, reintroduce the Anti-Tenants Black List under the purview of the New York City Human Rights, and provide funding for housing inspectors as well as empowering other City agencies to provide more protection to tenants.

3. Paid Sick Leave. There is currently a bill in the city council that would require companies in NYC with 5 or more employees to give 5 paid sick days per year to each employee (if they do not already). While many councilmembers support this, it has not been brought to a vote. Supporters feel this is much needed public health legislation that would only minimally raise labor costs, while opponents say that it would be an unfair financial burden to small business. Do you support the bill and will you actively work to get it passed? Sources: ~For: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/labor/news/2012/11/16/45152/myth-vs-fact-paid-sick-days/ ~Against: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/why_we_reject_sick_leave_bill_03pE50CZMFiHFhXzasDMLL

We are the only City Council Candidate in the 5th Council District to sign-on in support of Paid Sick Leave with the Working Families Party. We also support the recently-passed Paid Sick Leave Act, despite the two years we must wait to see it take effect. We look forward to working in the City Council to expand coverage to businesses with fewer than 20 employees, ensure enforcement of the Act, and remove the stipulation for shift-workers, who must choose between taking a sick day and adding a shift. Regarding this “shift swap” exemption, we are concerned that employers may pressure workers to add shifts rather than take paid sick days. Despite the delay in voting on paid sick leave, and despite its shortcomings, it represents a true victory for our working families.

4. Fair Police Practices & Occupy Wall Street. The New York City Police Department has been highly criticized for its Stop & Frisk policy, which disproportionally affects racial minorities and poor and working class New Yorkers. The NYPD has also been criticized for its treatment of activists in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Do you support ending or modifying Stop & Frisk? If running for mayor, will you keep Ray Kelly or appoint a new police commissioner? Do you think Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD should have handled events in the OWS movement differently and what measures will you take to protect political demonstrations?

We are the only City Council candidate in our district to oppose Stop and Frisk and speak out when it was reported that officers in the local precinct performed 5,250 stop-and-frisks in 2011, targeting minorities 76 percent of the time, despite people of color making up less than one fifth of the neighborhood's population, according to recent NYPD statistics. As an attorney, I am an unwavering supporter of the First Amendment. As an advocate for free speech I served as Amicus Curiae (“friend of the court”) Counsel for Google’s YouTube when they were sued by Verizon in the now historic Verizon v. YouTube decision in the 2nd Circuit. I support free speech and condemn the City’s actions during Occupy Wall Street and during the Republican National Convention before it. As a Council Member and attorney, I will call attention to all infringements on the right to free speech and peaceful assembly working with victims to secure the legal resources they need. Having led or participated in many rallies, demonstrations, protests, and picket lines, I will continue to support public demonstrations and free discourse.

5. Mayoral Control of Education. Mayoral Control of NYC schools is set to expire in 2016, but the state legislature can renew it. If elected to city government, you will not directly vote on mayoral control, but you will have a ‘bully pulpit’ as renewal is discussed in the next 3 years. Do you support keeping Mayoral Control as is, letting it expire, or making changes, for example to the hearing process for controversial decisions? (Examples: Co-locations of multiple schools in one building, providing district school space to charter schools, phasing out schools that have been labeled as “failing” due to high dropout rates, low test scores, or other factors.)

Our campaign seeks to empower the City and is so committed to doing so that we have an open and transparent platform with more than 125 solutions for vote, comment or improvement. Along those lines, we don’t support the concentration of power in any one person when it belongs in the hands of constituents. We will advocate making substantial changes to Mayoral control while avoiding empowering the bureaucracy of the Board of Education it replaced by using improved transparency including more public hearings that are televised, streamed online and accept physical and electronic testimony to empower teachers, parents, students and the community.

6. Teacher Evaluation. A key area where the mayor has influence in public education is in the negotiation of a contract with NYC’s public school teachers. Please give your opinion on the following proposed ways to evaluate teachers for the purpose of tenure, salary and other job benefits: Improvement in student test scores, observations by other teachers, student surveys, whether the teacher has an advanced degree, a principal’s evaluation of a teacher. Should principals be allowed to do unannounced observations of teachers? Do you have any experience negotiating labor union contracts?

I am the only union-side labor attorney running for City Council in New York City with experience supporting labor unions during contract negotiations, elections, and on picket lines. We are also the only candidate for City Council in District 5 to stand with the AFT and UFT when Mayor Bloomberg compared them to the National Rifle Association, and oppose continued efforts to base teachers’ livelihoods solely on test scores. We must recognize that our teachers are the heroes of our communities, and not only during tragedies like Newton. While any supervisor should be allowed to observe an employee unannounced the goal should not be finding grounds for termination but the improvement of teaching skills and education for our students. Any evaluation system must find a common ground for teachers, administrators, parents and students without losing focus on improving the quality of education while protecting the academic freedom the empowers excellent teachers.

7. Co-location of charter schools. City officials do not decide how many charter schools can exist, or grant requests to be a charter school. However, the Department of Education - currently controlled by the Mayor - may decide to provide charter schools with space, usually by "co-location" with district public schools. While more than half of NYC schools (not just charters) are co-located, it is a controversial topic when a charter school is involved. Critics argue that cash-strapped district schools should not be forced to share resources with charter schools and that co-location creates a morale problem when students and parents see the contrast. Co-location advocates argue that charter schools are public schools and should have an equal right to publicly owned resources such as buildings, charter schools do not receive funding for space and therefore operate at a severe financial disadvantage if they have to find private space, and that differences between co-located schools result from decisions the principals make about how to spend their per-pupil funding. Do you support the DOE giving public school space to charter schools?

Sources: Against - funding and space arguments.  In favor: Funding   Space

Our campaign is engaging the creativity and talent of New York City to find solutions for a better City giving rise to an entire education platform at http://kallosforcouncil.com/solutions/Education where we have proposed alternatives to co-location including Central Business where the City would use vacant sub-market priced office spaces on a short term lease to serve student populations depending on need. Until we can implement solutions like those we are proposing co-location remains a key component of our City’s educational system, whether it is multiple public schools or includes charters, the underlying problems must be addressed. If elected, I hope to serve on the Education Committee where the City Council can use hearings and legislation equal sharing of building resources and investment in building improvements with joint management between all schools in the building including administrators, teachers, parents and students.

8. The City Wage Tax. New York City’s budget depends in large part on the city wage tax, which is only paid by residents, not everyone who works in NYC. Would you call on the state legislature to allow NYC to collect the tax from people from the suburbs who work in NYC and benefit from our services (police, fire, etc.)? Would you support efforts to collect the tax from people who actually live in New York City but use a second home (a loophole not available to middle class New Yorkers with just one home) to avoid the city wage tax? If these efforts work, would you be willing to reduce the city wage tax so that workers would have more take home pay, and there would be less incentive for people to move to the suburbs, reducing our tax base?

We support taxes like the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Mobility Tax (MCTMT) and others like it that require City wage earners to contribute to essential City services used by all commuters. New York State currently audits residents who claim tax-residence in Florida where there is no income tax and we support similar audits within the State. Lastly, we support progressive tax reform and lowering taxes including income taxes on our City’s working families in need.

9. Other Taxes. Do you support progressive taxation? Do you support Governor Cuomo’s approach to the marginal tax rate on high incomes? What is your opinion on the current property tax in NYC? Would you support a federal financial transaction tax to either raise revenue, reduce the practice of high frequency trading, or both?

I support progressive tax reform and have already delivered concrete results on a State level. As Executive Director of Bill Samuels’ New Roosevelt, we were among the first to call on Governor Andrew Cuomo to restore the Millionaire’s tax when it was expiring and install a more progressive tax system so that everyone paid their fair share. This call that made national headlines as syndicated in the Associated Press and featured in the Wall Street Journal, ultimately forcing Governor Cuomo to extend the millionaires tax and add new tiers for a more progressive income tax system. Our nation’s future and even the global economy now rests in the stock markets, with most of our City, State and private retirement invested in one way or another, making it an issue of paramount importance. Following the Flash Crash and Knight Capital Group Crash our campaign has begun working with alumni of high frequency trading firms and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to create a framework to minimize risk of future crashes. We also request that DFNYC consider adopting a part of our progressive tax reform platform that was originally proposed by the Drum Major Institute, where New York City would repeal income taxes on households that do not owe Federal or State Income tax or earn less than $40,000 a year, you can learn more about the policy at http://kallosforcouncil.com/solution/tax-reform/stop-taxing-our-poorest-new-yorkers-repealing-income-taxes-low-and-moderate-inco

10. Poverty & the Social Safety Net. According to a 2012 report by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, many struggling New Yorkers are eligible for welfare, but have not been able to obtain it due to onerous application requirements, and the excessive and arbitrary use of “sanctions” by the City’s Human Resources Administration (HRA). These obstacles have caused very little increase in welfare cases during the recent recession, as contrasted with large increases in Food Stamps and Medicaid. Would you change HRA to make it easier for eligible families to obtain cash assistance, connect them to jobs or meaningful job training, and reform the improper use of sanctions? How would you manage New York City's social safety net programs to ensure that people get the help they need, while at the same time preventing fraud? Report: http:/www.fpwa.org/cgi-bin/iowa/policy/article/218.html

As a care taker for my mother who is disabled with Parkinson’s disease I have worked closely with social service agencies to secure as many government benefits as possible in order to maintain my mother’s quality of life. With personal experience working with the City’s Human Resources Administration, you could not hope for a stronger advocate. As a Nationwide Voter Protection Advocate, I face the “voter fraud” argument used as an excuse for voter identification laws which I believe to be the poll tax of our generation. We must not treat voters or social service applicants as criminals, but should instead prosecute cases when they arise. We support adding an online submission for all forms, translation into any language. Lastly we would also like to bring other common sense solutions to the application process. If we already provide all of our household financial information on a City tax return, why not make that an automatic qualification and application for social services. What could be better than a tax refund that also came with a food stamp card, and Medicaid card?

11. Homelessness. When Mayor Bloomberg first ran, he promised to introduce policies to drastically reduce the numbers of people who are homeless in our city. But during the twelve years of his administration, the numbers of homeless have increased dramatically each year. This is in addition to the approximately 50,000 people sleeping in shelters on an average night, according to a recent report by the Coalition for the Homeless. What would you do to deal with this sad situation? Sources: http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/pages/state-of-the-homeless-2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/20/nyregion/20homeless.html

New York’s homeless have the right to shelter under Article XVII of the New York State Constitution. Mayor Bloomberg, unwilling to acknowledge his failure to support homeless services during the deepest economic recession since the Great Depression, has instead blamed rising numbers of homeless men, women, and children on the “generosity” of the law, seeking to undermine it. But our homeless are not arriving in private jets or driving to shelters in limousines as the Mayor suggests, but instead face real struggles that require proven solutions. I support increasing access to social services including mental health, drug rehabilitation, job training and supportive housing. We also support the "housing first" approach proposed by the Coalition for the Homeless. Studies demonstrate that once in housing, formerly homeless men and women are more likely to recover from mental illness and addiction, and far more likely to find and keep employment. Supporting community organizations like Pathways to Housing is critical. As former Chief of Staff for Mitchell-Lama Subcommittee Chair, Assemblyman Jonathan L. Bing, I know the current issues facing affordable housing. We’ve got an entire affordable housing platform where you and your members can go online, comment on solutions, vote on them, and even suggest their own. Here are just a handful of the solutions you can find at http://kallosforcouncil.com/solutions/affordable-housing:

• Create an online affordable housing list with a simple unified application.

• Develop new affordable housing by improving the 421-a tax benefit.

• Empower communities through local neighborhood planning.

• Leverage public-private partnerships through an Employer-Assisted Housing (EAH) program to make more affordable housing available.

• Prohibit tenant blacklists through the New York City Commission on Human Rights by adding a protected class to New York City Human Rights Law.

• Protect tenant health by passing the "New York City Asthma-Free Housing Act."

• Protect tenants in rentals facing foreclosure by transforming properties into community assets.

• Provide homeowners with a new source of income by allowing them to offer affordable housing through a new building code for an "accessory dwelling unit." • Reduce homelessness by expanding supportive housing

12. Hurricane Sandy & Environmental Protection. The devastating impact that Hurricane Sandy had on New York City poses short term and long term challenges: immediate support for those who lost their homes and businesses, and climate change, respectively. What measures do you support for helping Sandy recovery efforts, as well as energy conservation and reducing the carbon footprint of New York City? What is your position on hydraulic fracturing and the Spectra pipeline?

Our City’s workers did an incredible job preparing our city for Hurricane Sandy and getting services up and running after, contributions our campaign recognized in the enclosed Huffington Post article entitled “New York City Union Workers Respond to Hurricane Sandy: Preparing, Protecting and Rebuilding.” We volunteered in hurricane relief shelters filled with volunteers that also demonstrated exceptional dedication and efficiency. We also support Governor Cuomo’s proposed infrastructure changes. As a Chief of Staff in the Assembly, we focused on emergency responses. Legislation I helped draft included a tax-free week to buy hurricane supplies and raise awareness for “Go Bags.” Go Bags are full of essential supplies, including documents and medication, which can be quickly grabbed in case of emergency. In order to support Go Bags for people that are dependent on medication, we support amendments to New York State law, providing Medicare and Medicaid funding and allowing doctors to provide prescriptions specifically for Go Bags. We also supported our local Community Emergency Response Teams, including them in all of our emergency preparedness events and actively assisting in recruiting new members to supplement first responders with strong CERT teams. Lastly, as the tech candidate, we are members of the New York Tech Meetup community, and support the robust set of technological tools and “apps” they built for Sandy, and would see the developed into fully mature products to support the city in times of emergency.

13. Gun Control. While DFNYC members have long supported gun control, the December 14th shooting in Newtown, Connecticut seems to have changed the debate on the national level. Do you support the proposals President Obama made to (a) renew and fix the assault weapons ban, (b) ban high capacity magazines (limit the number of bullets that can be shot before reloading), and (c) improve the background check system? Please indicate any other methods you would support to reduce gun violence, including how you would implement them, for example: gun buy-back programs, training programs for gun owners, improved access to mental health care, and involving the business community in gun safety.

We fully support all the President proposals for gun control. One method that we support to reduce gun violence in addition the president's proposals is to fund a citywide gun mircostamping program. The mircostamping program will require that all newly made guns to mark the shell casing with a unique code each time a semi automatic pistol is fired, which will allow law enforcement to trace guns to the original purchaser of the weapon. Publicizing the mircostamping program can also prevent gun crime by deterring "straw purchaser", who buys guns only to sell them to people who cannot pass a background check. with this tool, the NYPD can also better trace guns to buyers and criminals.

14. Choice & Marriage Equality. Please briefly state your position on the following three issues: marriage equality for gays & lesbians, a woman's right to choose, and access to birth control. (25 words or less)

As an attorney I have long fought for civil rights. I support marriage equality as a fundamental civil right. Civil rights including the right to choose and access to birth control are essential and must be supported as part of supporting the sexual health of our City including availability of sexual health products as well as free screenings and treatment to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.










Contact Information

Email: info -at- dfnyc.org


A local coalition group of Democracy for America since 2004

Democracy for NYC (DFNYC) is committed to the ideals espoused by Democracy for America, the organization founded by Howard Dean, and the national network of local coalition groups dedicated to the same.